Monday, 29 February 2016

Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes - Documentary




Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

Giselle with Natalya Bessmertnova and Mikhail Lavrovsky



Giselle
Natalia Bessmertnova
Mikhail Lavrovsky
Galina Kozlova
Vladimir Levashov
Algis Zhuraitis - Conductor

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Nikolay Argunov (1771- after 1829) - brief biography

Portrait of Praskovia Kovalyova-Zhemchugova, 1803

Nikolay Argunov was born in 1771. His father was the famous painter Ivan Argunov. He was the serf of the count P.Sheremetyev as his farther. During his trips abroad P.Sheremetyev was taking the painter with him and Nikolay was able to perfect his skill. P.Sheremetyev granted him freedom later on.

Nikolai Argunov 04.jpeg
 Portrait of a boy from a family of Sheremetev 1803
N. Argunov  was staying mainly in Moscow and was engaged in paint of many portraits. Was granted the title of the "appointed academician" for his portrait of "unknown person" by the Academy of Fine Arts in 1816. And was granted the title of academician for the portrait of the senator P.Runich (in the hall of the academy board).
Portraits of N. Argunov  can be seen very often. There are several portraits of the members of the family of the count P.Sheremetyev (in estates Ostankino and Kuskovo, near Moscow, as well as in the estates of the counts A. and S.Sheremetyev in Saint Petersburg), "Portrait of Boy" in the estate of the prince V.Argutinskiy-Dolgorukov, portraits of "unknown persons" in The Saratov Museum of Radischev and in the estate of the baron N.Vrangel, five portraits in The Museum of the Alexander III.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle - Giselle (complete)



Giselle
Teatro Alla Scala 2005

Roberto Bolle - Albrecht
Svetlana Zakharova - Giselle
Marta Romagna - Myrtha
Vittorio D'Amato - Hilarion
David Coleman - Conductor

Mussorgsky: Khovanshchina



Khovanshchina Musorgsky (Shostakovich)
E. Svetlanov Bolshoi
Mark Reizen
Maya Plisetskaya (1:35:00)
Aleksej Krivchenya
Anton Grigoryev
Director Vera Stroeva
Shostakovich orchestration

Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition



 Sir Georg Solti - Chicago Symphony Orchestra 1980

David Burliuk - Biography

David Davidovich Burliuk was born on 9th (21) July, 1882 into the family of an amateur agriculturist. As a child he lost his left eye in a fight with his brother. So he had one glass eye, which became a part of his artistic image. In 1898—1910 he studied in art colleges in Kazan and Odessa. He also studied painting in Germany and France. The artist made his debut in press in 1899.



Having returned to Russia, in 1907—1908 Burliuk mixed with leftward artists and participated in art exhibitions. In 1911—1914 he studied together with Vladimir Mayakovsky in the Moscow Painting, Sculpture and Architecture School.


Possessing outstanding managerial abilities, David Burliuk quickly accumulated the main powers of futurism. With his direct assistance numerous books of poetry were published, prospects issued, exhibitions and public debates arranged. During World War I David Burliuk was not subject to drafting due to his glass left eye. He lived in Moscow, had his verses published, contributed for some newspapers, and painted. In 1918—1920 he toured together with Vasily Kamensky and Vladimir Mayakovsky across the Urals, Siberia, and the Far East. In 1920 he immigrated to Japan, where he lived for two years, painting and studying Oriental culture. In 1922 he moved to the USA. In New York David Burliuk developed activity in pro-Soviet oriented groups and, having written a poem for the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution, he aspired to gain recognition as the father of the Russian futurism. David Burliuk published his poetry books, brochures, and magazines together with his wife Maria Nikiforovna Burliuk and with the help of his friends distributed those editions, mainly within the USSR. From 1930 and for some decades David Burliuk himself published his magazine Color and Rhyme, from 4 to 100 pages large, written partly in English, and partly in Russian, with his paintings, poems, reviews, reproductions of futurist works, etc.

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Friday, 26 February 2016

Shorter notice - Alexander Blok

Certain poets don the mantle of their art only when writing; others, such as the Russian Symbolist Aleksandr Blok (1880–1921), are unceasingly the poet. For his contemporaries, Blok was a mystical figure; his poems, vatic and eschatological. Disposed against the middle way, Blok’s eye scaled the empyrean or plummeted to harsh earthly realities. Likewise marked by extremes has been Blok’s literary reputation: referred to by some as the greatest of twentieth-century Russian poets, Blok is seen by others as a fatuous follower of the revolution. His most famous and controversial poem, “The Twelve,” an ironic, dissonant hymn to the October uprising, was taken by Soviet critics as proof of Blok’s sympathy. Yet it was not Marxism but Blok’s otherworldly idealism—with its characteristic polarities —that brought him first to support, then to reject out of bitter disillusionment, the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. (He would not live to see the resulting repression which engulfed his literary compatriots.)

Blok was nine when Chekhov’s Seagull was written, yet the poet seems prefigured by the character of Treplev—a fiery young man whose deeply felt, personal symbols served as the basis for his art. Like Treplev, Blok began in the theater (performing roles from Shakespeare); unlike Treplev, Blok got to marry his Nina—the actress Lyubov Dmitrievna Mendeleeva in 1903. Lyubov was, for Blok and his colleague Andrei Bely, the Symbolist muse, an embodiment of the poet-philosopher Vladimir Solovev’s “Eternal Feminine.” Solovev’s cult of the Divine Sophia became for Blok and Bely a touchstone to test the ore of poetry; Blok, in what he called his “submission to God and Plato,” wrote with awe of the young girl, Wisdom, the fairy-tale princess, the “desired friend,” the “white sovereign,” and the World Soul. As the late Princeton professor Nina Berberova writes in her posthumously published, informal biography of the poet, for Blok and his circle “contemplation turned into feverish searching, and the symbol of the ‘Woman clothed with the sun,’ was combined with the down-to-earth wisdom of the Gnostics.” Hardly terra firma; Blok’s fixation with his goddess might be likened to Yeats’s moon madness. Of the poems written during this period— over eight hundred of them—a portion were collected as Verses to the Most Beautiful Lady (1904), the poet’s celebration (or deification) of an always-capitalized “She.” Blok’s lyricism took on the quality of prayer in poems such as “I Seek Salvation” (translations of the poems are taken from Jon Stallworthy’s and Peter France’s The Twelve and Other Poems [1970]):

The choir of stars grows weary and falls quiet.
Doubt disappears. The night is done.
There You descend from the far, bright
summit.
Waiting for You, I have stretched out my
spirit.
You bring salvation!

Blok’s poetry in this vein owes as much to the romantic tradition as the modern; repeatedly, Blok, through the lyric “I” or masked behind various personae, appears as the questing hero, though a hero increasingly tinged with the tragic. Shortly after his first book appeared, Blok’s world view grew clouded: still present was the poems’ visionary tenor, but he began to eschew the ideal of the Beautiful Lady in favor of the “Unknown Woman,” a perfumed slattern in Blok’s native Petersburg. Natural settings were replaced by oneiric horrors of the metropolis:

And every evening, past the level-
crossing, the jocular swells,
bowlers tilted at a rakish angle,
stroll between ditches with their girls.

Over the lake the rowlocks scraping
and women screeching can be heard,
and in a sky inured to everything
the moon leers down like a drunkard.

Blok’s marriage had begun to falter, and he took refuge in the bars. Often thought of as a prophet of the revolution, Blok first imagined the events of 1905 as corresponding to the Beautiful Lady acting in history; he quickly came to speak of them, however, in terms of the ominous Unknown Woman. Berberova describes Blok’s downward spiral:
Blok aligned himself with everything that must perish; he observed in himself the slide toward destruction. His anguish was the world’s; the next disaster would be the end of everything he loved, the end of the Petersburg era, … the end of society, of a set of ideas which would be destroyed by the same fatal, implacable force which was destroying his own hearth.
Blok’s premonition of the coming storm was realized in 1917. He again began listening to the music of the revolution and recorded its charivari in “The Twelve,” a poem written in January 1918 in which a dozen Red Guards march through a blizzard led, finally, by the figure of Christ (Trotsky thought the image should have been changed to Lenin leading the twelve). A paean to the revolution, the poem is also deeply ambiguous—praise mingles with mockery, and the whole is blanketed in a mist of irony. The poem was among the last Blok would write. 

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Igor Stravinsky - Documentary

Stravinsky: The Last Interview

Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive
Officiously to keep alive.

—Arthur Hugh Clough

(March 1-2, 1971)


NYR: What are your thoughts about the new euthanasia movement, Mr. Stravinsky?
I.S.: First of all, I noticed on their appeals that the two leading promoter organizations share the same building as The New York Review; which, I hope, affords you a little cold comfort now and then. I hope, too, that they are merely passing the hat around, and that the contribution they want is not me.
Surely many or most of us believe that when we lose control, it would be better not to come in from, but rather, like Eskimos, to go out into the cold. The rub is that we also lose control of that belief. A friend of mine, a lifelong proponent of “voluntary death,” was stricken some years ago by paralysis which, however, apart from some speech impairment, did not cripple his faculties. His friends, knowing his state of awareness, expected a quick surrender, since he obviously could have given up the ghost, and was in the first place, or so it seemed, possessed by a “death wish.”
But was he? Is he now? And can we ever know very much about the life incentives of people in his condition? The American Sociological Association reports that deaths decrease in the month before a birthday and increase in the month after it, and people appear to postpone their deaths until after an election, or other event of general, even if possibly quite trivial, interest. No doubt the moon landing kept many people alive; and I might even derive another few years myself from further shortcuts, such as Cambodia and Laos, to the end of the war.
“I want to die with dignity,” the euthanasiast says. And, “I don’t want to leave my family with the image of deterioration”; which sounds like the speaker’s fear of deterioration. But these are present sentiments, and future ones are not predictable. Deterioration, moreover, is insidious, and the lines shift or become indistinct. What if, after committing someone else to draw them for us, we feel ourselves to be less concerned about our dignity than about even a very little more life? I once thought that my own criterion for a proper time to pull the plug would be the moment when my more and more furtive memory had retreated to a point where I could no longer recollect which of my coevals was alive and which dead. But I have long since passed beyond that, and now simply, and on the whole correctly, assume that they are all dead.

Finally, the “modesty” of some of the proposals of the right-to-die lobbyists is as horrifying as Swift’s. One doctor has stated that “anyone over sixty-five should not be resuscitated if his heart stopped.” (But Schoenberg dramatized his own resuscitation by a needle directly into the heart, at an age well beyond that, in his String Trio.) And another doctor has argued that our already overstrained medical resources should not be wasted on anyone over eighty and very ill. (But I was both when I wrote my Variationsand Canticles, and they are superior, I think, to some of the music I was writing in my early seventies.) And why not increase the medical resources, even at the cost of diminishing some of the military ones? Or slow down on Project Methuselah? For the fifty-year increase in life expectancy by the end of the century, thanks to anti-oxidents such as BHT, and hormone rejuvenators such as prednisolone, is surely the grisliest of all the fates in store for the future beneficiaries of our current medical miracles. In short, gerontological retrogression is as important as euthanasia, if ounces of prevention are worth their proverbial weight in cure.

II

(March 6-10, 1971)

NYR: Is your interest in new medical developments largely the result of the disasters that have befallen you in that line?
I.S.: It certainly got a boost from them. Thus an unfounded prognosis, a year and a half ago, of atypical tuberculosis naturally aroused my curiosity in the whole subject of atypical diseases. Thus, too, my interest in fluorocarbons and synthetic blood substitutes may be attributed to years of contradictory and conflicting treatments of my own blood disease. And thus my confinement last year in a cardiac unit—the wrong department for the illness from which I was actually suffering—greatly stimulated my interest in auxiliary hearts, and in defibrillators, pacemakers, vitallium mitral valves. The latter are not yet soundproof, and the man who has one installed, like the crocodile with the clock in Peter Pan, is unable to hide himself—or, worse, from himself—though undoubtedly the thought of this tell-tale heart is more distressing to a metronomically minded musician than to other people.
But while countless unsuccessful experiments with behavior modification drugs have had a deleterious effect on me, they have not shaken my faith in that boundless domain. The effectiveness of lithium in constraining our manic friends during their cliff-hanging phases has already been demonstrated, after all, and probably more of our other friends than we suspect are kept going by amphetamines. And in spite of all the failures in my own case, I prefer to attribute my depression to a so-called sodium leak into the cells, rather than, say, to “the state of the arts” or the “philosophical overview.”
Another malady, but this one not my own, is responsible for my keen interest in the science of diagnosis by smell. I think it was Coleridge’s “Every teacher has a mental odor” that first drew my attention to the subject. Then, recalling what my Danish nurse had said about Følling’s detection of a metabolic disorder in babies from an odor in their urine; and remembering that the perspiration of schizophrenics is distinguished by an odor (trans-3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid), I began to wonder whether other biochemical disturbances might identify vocational aptitudes and inaptitudes. Music critics, for example. That most of them “stink” is obvious, of course, but what is the chemical basis?
Perspiration may be a primary odor, by the way, since some people are “odor blind” to it. But unlike the primary color receptor sites in the eye, the primary odor receptors in the olfactory tissue—which could conceivably identify by shape, on the grounds that molecules with different chemical properties but similar shapes possess similar odors—have not yet been isolated. And we should be grateful for that, otherwise television would come not only in deadly color but with the living smellies as well.
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Thursday, 25 February 2016

Vladimir Solovyov : Epitaph

  
            Lies in this sepulcher.
   Once a philosopher
   And now a skeleton.
   To some he was kind,
   To many an enemy;
   But, having loved madly,
   He plunged into a ravine
   And lost his mortal soul,
   Not to mention body:
   The devil ransomed it,
   The dogs ransacked him.
Passerby! Learn from this example,
How malignant love and beneficial faith.

            15 June 1892

Anna Akhmatova: Prayer

Give me comfortless seasons of sickness,
Visitations of wrath and of wrong
On my house; Lord, take child and companion,
And destroy the sweet power of song.

Thus I pray at each matins, each vespers,
After these many wearying days,
That the storm-cloud which broods over Russia
May be changed to a nimbus ablaze.

Singer Iris DeMent's Homage to Soviet Poet Anna Akhmatova

Few poets stood higher on Joseph Stalin’s hit list than Anna Akhmatova, the Soviet doyen of reverie and suffering who was born near the Black Sea in 1899 to an upper-class family. Like many in her literary milieu before the Russian Revolution, she revolted against drowsy symbolism and became a poet of spiritual clarity and of simplicity—but she always resisted the characterization of her poems as the work of a seductive poetess or a counter-revolutionary. She preferred to consider herself a poet of the soul. Certainly, the architects of Soviet ideology, first under Lenin and later under Stalin, thought of her that way and set about trying to stop her from writing poetry of refined self-awareness. Censors accused her of flirting with mysticism and eroticism and lacking political conviction. As early as 1921, nine years after Akhmatova published her first book of poems, the Cheka arrested her former husband, Nikolai Gumilev, who was a charismatic figure in Russian poetry before 1917 and the father of her only child, on the trumped-up charge that he was an anti-Bolshevik conspirator. Three weeks later, he was executed. The charge was, of course, fabricated. His reputation would not be rehabilitated until 1992.
From the early 1920s to the ’50s Akhmatova’s published works were officially suppressed, sanctioned as too feminine and not sufficiently Marxist. To inspire her—let us say—to write politically sympathetic poems, officials arrested her son and her husband. Both men spent time in gulags. And we know that Akhmatova was in the Moscow apartment of Osip Mandelstam when the secret police arrived to arrest him in 1934 for writing a poem critical of Stalin—an arrest that would eventually lead to Mandelstam’s death in 1938.
The harassment of Akhmatova’s son, Lev Gumilev, came to dominate the poet’s existence during the worst years of Stalin’s terror. Since Lev was the offspring of two “public enemies,” his father, Nikolai Gumilev, and Akhmatova, he was arrested multiple times, imprisoned, released, reinvestigated, and threatened with execution (until his inquisitors fell victim to an internal Stalinist purge and were executed first). After World War II, Soviet authorities recommended that Lev change his last name to avoid arrest again. He refused so as not to betray his father’s memory—and was sentenced to a forced-labor camp. These actions were meant to intimidate Akhmatova into writing the patriotic poetry Communist ideologues expected from her. But she refused. Only after her son was arrested again in 1949 did she relent, publishing some dozen poems in half-hearted praise of Stalin’s life as an emblem of freedom. Her effort was a failure. Censors found the work to be of little propaganda value. So her sacrifice was suppressed as well. Secretly, Akhmatova was writing her masterpiece,Requiem, about the sufferings of the Russian people under totalitarian rule. The poem was not published in Russian until 1987 during the Gorbachev era. But long before that, she was whispering lines to her closest friends, who worked to commit the poem to memory. Akhmatova would then burn the pages in an ashtray next to her cigarette butts. (She kept the original copy safely hidden.) Today, lines of Requiem are known by heart by millions of Russian schoolchildren. Akhmatova died of a heart attack in 1966.
Presumably none of this history was on the mind of American singer-songwriter Iris DeMent when she and her husband adopted their daughter, Dasha, from Siberia in 2005, when the girl was six years old. It’s a delicious irony that the most vivid country-soul album released last autumn should be DeMent’s The Trackless Woods, in which DeMent sets to music eighteen of Akhmatova’s poems, translated by Lyn Coffin and Babette Deutsch, as a gift to her young daughter, who now lives with her in Iowa and not, it goes without saying, in Vladimir Putin’s regressive neo-Soviet nation-state. In the liner notes, DeMent writes:
I didn’t know any [of Akhmatova’s tortured history] the day I came across a handful of her poems in a book a friend had loaned me. The cover of the book is red, with a drawing of a Russian samovar on it. The words “An Anthology of Russian Verse” are printed inside the samovar. I opened it up and read my first Anna Akhmatova poem, “Like a White Stone,” and by the time I’d finished reading it a second time, I felt like somebody (besides me) had started talking to me. What I heard was: “Set that to music.” So I did.
The album includes a good deal else, including compact totems of the trials of creative invention such as “To My Poems,” which goes:
You led me into the trackless woods,
My falling stars, my dark endeavor.
You were bitterness, lies, a bill of goods, a bride,
You weren’t a consolation—ever.
These lines convey despair about the difficult process of writing, but also, paradoxically, feelings of devotion and tenderness. They evoke the sacrifices an artist makes to find the “broad gold, the … heavens glow,” as Akhmatova writes in another poem “covered” on the album. One of DeMent’s most moving renditions is the poem, “Not with Deserters,” which Akhmatova wrote out of disdain for Russian exiles:
Not with deserters from the battle
That tears my land do I belong.
To their coarse praise I do not listen.
They shall not have from me one song.
Poor exile, you are like a prisoner
To me, or one upon the bed
Of sickness. Dark your road, O wanderer,
Of wormwood smacks your alien bread.
Here, into smoking fires that blacken
Our lives, the last of youth we throw,
Who in the years behind us never
Sought to evade a single blow.
We know that in the final reckoning
No hour will need apology;
No people in the world are prouder,
More tearless, simpler, than are we.
Reading the poem now it’s worth remembering that, in Requiem, Akhmatova refers to herself as the “mouth through which a hundred million scream.” The glum lines above are a rebuke to those who have fled Russia—in effect, silencing themselves. Surely Akhmatova would not, imagining the future, include DeMent’s daughter in her indictment. But it’s fascinating to consider that DeMent is attempting to convey to her Russian-born daughter something of Akhmatova’s pride of place. Speaking on NPR’s Fresh Air, DeMent sounded sensitive to this question about her daughter: “I didn’t try to pull her along into that. The extent to which she absorbed [that part of her Russian culture] is her story to tell and yet to be seen in the future.”
For many the album will raise interesting questions about the roots of creativity, too. Musicians have a long history of performing covers of each other’s songs, and poets too have the tradition of responding to poems by other poets. DeMent’s album is a peculiar crossover, where an American singer of soulful, heartland individualism sings “covers” of poems by Russia’s iconic poet of elegant self-esteem in a pristine, back-of-the-choir Pentecostal voice. Akhmatova was a member of a group of writers, the Acmeists, who extolled the values of directness and clarified images. This characterization neatly describes what DeMent has been performing for more than two decades as well, beginning with her breakthrough album, Infamous Angel in 1992. Her music typically relies on just a few chords strummed on a clean-sounding guitar or sometimes a piano accompaniment that comes across like it’s being played on a shabby upright shoved into the corner of a hallway—The Trackless Woodsrecordings were made in DeMent’s living room. If you’ve listened to her albums, you already know that her voice exudes old-timey plainness and humor, along with heartbreak and disillusionment.
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Anton Chekhov to Gorky, a Letter

YALTA, February 15, 1900.
DEAR ALEXEY MAXIMOVITCH,
Your article in the Nizhni-Novgorod Listok was balm to my soul. What a talented person you are! I can’t write anything but belles-lettres, you possess the pen of a journalist as well. I thought at first I liked the article so much because you praise me in it; afterwards it came out that Sredin and his family and Yartsev were all delighted with it. So peg away at journalism. God bless you!
Why don’t they send me “Foma Gordeyev”? I have read it only in bits, and one ought to read it straight through at a sitting as I have just read “Resurrection.” Except the relations of Nehludov and Katusha, which are somewhat obscure and made up, everything in the novel made the impression of strength, richness, and breadth, and the insincerity of a man afraid of death and refusing to admit it and clutching at texts and holy Scripture.
Write to them to send me “Foma.”
“Twenty-six Men and a Girl” is a good story. There is a strong feeling of the environment. One smells the hot rolls.
They have just brought your letter. So you don’t want to go to India? That’s a pity. When India is in the past, a long sea voyage, you have something to think about when you can’t get to sleep. And a tour abroad takes very little time, it need not prevent your going about in Russia on foot.
I am bored, not in the sense of weltschmerz, not in the sense of being weary of existence, but simply bored from want of people, from want of music which I love, and from want of women, of whom there are none in Yalta. I am bored without caviare and pickled cabbage.
I am very sorry that apparently you have given up the idea of coming to Yalta. The Art Theatre from Moscow will be here in May. It will give five performances and then remain for rehearsals. So you come, study the stage at the rehearsals, and then in five to eight days write a play, which I should welcome joyfully with my whole heart.
Yes, I have the right now to insist on the fact that I am forty, that I am a man no longer young. I used to be the youngest literary man, but you have appeared on the scene and I became more dignified at once, and no one calls me the youngest now.

More letters here

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Velimir Khlebnikov: The naked freedom is coming

The naked freedom is coming
Casting flowers on our hearts
And, keeping in step, with heaven
We talk, having equal rights.
We, soldiers, will strike in a strict way
At stern shields with our hands:
Let the people become the king now,
Forever, in all lands!
Let maidens sing at the windows
Amid the songs of the ancient campaign
About the Sun’s true people – The autocratic men.
Translated by Alexandr Zorin

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

BBC: Great Composers Tchaikovsky


Tchaikovsky's musical scores are lyrical, romantic and deeply emotional.
This film endeavours to put the composer in context alongside Tolstoy as one of the most celebrated Russians of his time, examining his continuing significance in Russia today, and visiting locations which were important in Tchaikovsky's life. His life is scoured to reveal an abortive marriage, his true feelings about homosexuality and how this may have been expressed in his music.
Contributors include pianists Mikhail Rudy and Yevgeni Kissin, violinist Maxim Vengerov, conductor Valery Gergiev, ballerina Natalia Makarova, opera director Graham Vick and the Tchaikovsky-loving tram driver, Valentina.

Pride and Poetry - Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky caught the attention of the outside world for the first time in 1964, when he was tried in Leningrad for the crime of writing poetry. That is not how the indictment read, of course: his “crime” was that he did not have a regular job, and was therefore a “parasite.” But a scurrilous article attacking Brodsky in the Evening Leningrad newspaper not long before his trial gave the game away. He was charged with being a “literary drone,” a writer of pointless doggerel, and therefore useless to society unless he was made to do “real” work. The newspaper attack and the subsequent trial were badges of honor for someone as young as Brodsky. He was only twenty-four and virtually unknown outside the narrow circle of his admirers, and campaigns of this sort were ordinarily reserved for famous older figures, such as Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova.

Brodsky was in fact the victim of political events far beyond his control. Khrushchev’s “Thaw” experiment of 1956–1962, designed, among other things, to do away with such embarrassments as show trials, had badly backfired in 1962 with the sensational success of Solzhenitsyn’s short gulag novel, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which scared the living daylights out of the Soviet leaders. They needed scapegoats, and so they launched a crackdown on all branches of the arts, especially literature—always a bellwether in Russia—looking for young and vulnerable writers less able to fight back than their elders.

So it was that in March 1964, the young Brodsky found himself alone in the dock in a large hall in Leningrad, facing a hostile judge and twice as many witnesses for the prosecution (none of whom knew him personally) as for the defense, and charged with not having a regular job. It was a setup, of course. A large placard outside the hall set the tone: “Parasite Brodsky on Trial.” The prosecutor made no bones about what the verdict would be. Brodsky’s defenders were “crooks, parasites, lice, bugs,” and Brodsky “a parasite, a lout, a crook, an ideologically corrupt human being.” After five hours of insulting innuendo and hostile questioning, much of it by the judge, Brodsky was informed of his pre-determined sentence, which was five years of exile from Leningrad, with compulsory physical labor.

The palpable injustice of this vindictive show trial aroused the ire of the liberal wing of the Russian literary community. They concluded that literature itself, and especially poetry, was on trial, and that the verdict set a dangerous example. Brodsky became “a symbol, an archetype—the Poet misunderstood and vilified by an ignorant rabble,” as the late Lev Loseff puts it in his illuminating but uneven biography (which has been admirably translated by Jane Ann Miller). Brodsky’s case was taken up by two older writers, Lydia Chukovskaya and Frida Vigdorova, who understood perfectly the threat to all writers posed by the trial. They enlisted a galaxy of cultural celebrities in support of the young poet, and Vigdorova circulated her unofficial transcript of the trial in samizdat (a new phenomenon in those days), which quickly found its way abroad and was published there. John Berryman, W.H. Auden, and Stephen Spender were among those galvanized by the trial to protest the persecution of a fellow poet, and instead of fading into oblivion the little known Brodsky became a minor celebrity.

Joseph Brodsky caught the attention of the outside world for the first time in 1964, when he was tried in Leningrad for the crime of writing poetry. That is not how the indictment read, of course: his “crime” was that he did not have a regular job, and was therefore a “parasite.” But a scurrilous article attacking Brodsky in the Evening Leningrad newspaper not long before his trial gave the game away. He was charged with being a “literary drone,” a writer of pointless doggerel, and therefore useless to society unless he was made to do “real” work. The newspaper attack and the subsequent trial were badges of honor for someone as young as Brodsky. He was only twenty-four and virtually unknown outside the narrow circle of his admirers, and campaigns of this sort were ordinarily reserved for famous older figures, such as Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova.

Brodsky was in fact the victim of political events far beyond his control. Khrushchev’s “Thaw” experiment of 1956–1962, designed, among other things, to do away with such embarrassments as show trials, had badly backfired in 1962 with the sensational success of Solzhenitsyn’s short gulag novel, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which scared the living daylights out of the Soviet leaders. They needed scapegoats, and so they launched a crackdown on all branches of the arts, especially literature—always a bellwether in Russia—looking for young and vulnerable writers less able to fight back than their elders.

So it was that in March 1964, the young Brodsky found himself alone in the dock in a large hall in Leningrad, facing a hostile judge and twice as many witnesses for the prosecution (none of whom knew him personally) as for the defense, and charged with not having a regular job. It was a setup, of course. A large placard outside the hall set the tone: “Parasite Brodsky on Trial.” The prosecutor made no bones about what the verdict would be. Brodsky’s defenders were “crooks, parasites, lice, bugs,” and Brodsky “a parasite, a lout, a crook, an ideologically corrupt human being.” After five hours of insulting innuendo and hostile questioning, much of it by the judge, Brodsky was informed of his pre-determined sentence, which was five years of exile from Leningrad, with compulsory physical labor.

The palpable injustice of this vindictive show trial aroused the ire of the liberal wing of the Russian literary community. They concluded that literature itself, and especially poetry, was on trial, and that the verdict set a dangerous example. Brodsky became “a symbol, an archetype—the Poet misunderstood and vilified by an ignorant rabble,” as the late Lev Loseff puts it in his illuminating but uneven biography (which has been admirably translated by Jane Ann Miller). Brodsky’s case was taken up by two older writers, Lydia Chukovskaya and Frida Vigdorova, who understood perfectly the threat to all writers posed by the trial. They enlisted a galaxy of cultural celebrities in support of the young poet, and Vigdorova circulated her unofficial transcript of the trial in samizdat (a new phenomenon in those days), which quickly found its way abroad and was published there. John Berryman, W.H. Auden, and Stephen Spender were among those galvanized by the trial to protest the persecution of a fellow poet, and instead of fading into oblivion the little known Brodsky became a minor celebrity.

VIGDOROVA’S TRANSCRIPT was a work of art in itself—a two-act drama full of tension and conflict, which revealed the reviled young poet, with his back to the wall, as a genuine (if involuntary) hero. The first act consisted of a preliminary hearing, after which the trial was halted for Brodsky to be sent to a prison psychiatric hospital for mental evaluation. (This was in the days before the Soviet authorities started regularly committing dissidents to psychiatric hospitals instead of putting them on trial—a rehearsal, perhaps.) Brodsky was there for only a few weeks, and the “barbaric treatment” he suffered there did not break him. Quite the contrary, as the transcript showed:

Judge: What is your profession?
Brodsky: Poet. Poet and translator.
Judge: Who said you were a poet? Who assigned you that rank?
Brodsky: No one. (Nonconfrontational.) Who assigned me to the human race?

Such exchanges were numerous and continued throughout his interrogation, which went on for several hours. “What struck me,” wrote a sympathetic observer, “was that this young man, whom I finally had a chance to see and observe at close range, in circumstances both cruel and unusual for him, radiated a sort of peaceful detachment—Judge Savelyeva couldn’t hurt him, couldn’t goad him into blowing up; he wasn’t frightened by her shrieking at his every other word.” Brodsky’s behavior in the Soviet Union in 1964 was astonishing, a sign both of the changing times and of his extraordinary courage. He did not cave or confess or plead for forgiveness, nor did he make a stirring political speech. He had not publicly opposed the Soviet system or its censorship (even though he had suffered from it), and he had no political message to communicate. He appeared to float above and beyond the realm of politics and ideology. He stated calmly (and prophetically, as it turned out): “I’m no parasite. I’m a poet, who will bring honor and glory to his country.”

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Boris Pasternak: ‘February. Take ink and weep,’

February. Take ink and weep,
write February as you’re sobbing,
while black Spring burns deep
through the slush and throbbing.
Take a cab. For a clutch of copecks,
through bell-towers’ and wheel noise,
go where the rain-storm’s din breaks,
greater than crying or ink employs.
Where rooks in thousands falling,
like charred pears from the skies,
drop down into puddles, bringing
cold grief to the depths of eyes.
Below, the black shows through,
and the wind’s furrowed with cries:
the more freely, the more truly
then, sobbing verse is realised.

Monday, 22 February 2016

The Arts in Russia Under Stalin

In the autumn of 1945 Isaiah Berlin, then an official of the British Foreign Office, visited Russia for the first time since he had left it in 1920, aged eleven. It was during this visit that his famous meetings with Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak took place.1 At the end of his period of duty Berlin wrote a remarkable long memorandum, to which he gave the characteristically unassuming title “A Note on Literature and the Arts in the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in the Closing Months of 1945.”2

He was modest, too, about the content of his report. He enclosed a copy of it with a letter dated March 23, 1946, to Averell Harriman, US ambassador to the USSR. In the letter, written from the British embassy in Washington, he told Harriman: “I enclose a long and badly written report on Russian literature etc. which I am instructed to forward to you by Frank Roberts [British Minister in Moscow]. I doubt whether there is anything in it that is either new or arresting—here only Jock Balfour [British Minister in Washington] has read it, in the Foreign Office I doubt if anyone will. It is confidential only because of the well-known consequences to the possible sources of the information contained in it, should its existence ever become known to ‘them.”‘

Berlin’s self-effacing account of his dispatch is of course quite misleading. As Michael Ignatieff writes in his biography of Berlin: “Its modest title belied its ambitions: it was nothing less than a history of Russian culture in the first half of the twentieth century, a chronicle of Akhmatova’s fateful generation. It was probably the first Western account of Stalin’s war against Russian culture. On every page there are traces of what she—Chukovsky and Pasternak as well—told him about their experiences in the years of persecution.” 3

The Soviet literary scene is a peculiar one, and in order to understand it few analogies from the West are of use. For a variety of causes Russia has in historical times led a life to some degree isolated from the rest of the world, and never formed a genuine part of the Western tradition; indeed her literature has at all times provided evidence of a peculiarly ambivalent attitude to the uneasy relationship between herself and the West, taking the form now of a violent and unsatisfied longing to enter and become part of the mainstream of European life, now of a resentful (“Scythian”) contempt for Western values, not by any means confined to professing Slavophiles; but most often of an unresolved, self-conscious combination of these mutually opposed currents of feeling. This mingled emotion of love and of hate permeates the writing of virtually every well-known Russian author, sometimes rising to great vehemence in the protest against foreign influence which, in one form or another, colors the masterpieces of Griboedov, Pushkin, Gogol, Nekrasov, Dostoevsky, Herzen, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Blok.

The October Revolution insulated Russia even more completely, and her development became perforce still more self-regarding, self-conscious, and incommensurable with that of its neighbors. It is not my purpose to trace the situation historically, but the present [autumn 1945] is particularly unintelligible without at least a glance at previous events, and it would perhaps be convenient, and not too misleading, to divide its recent growth into three main stages—(a) 1900-1928; (b) 1928- 1937; (c) 1937 to the present—artificial and oversimple though this can easily be shown to be.

The first quarter of the present century was a time of storm and stress during which Russian literature, particularly poetry (as well as the theater and the ballet), principally (although one is not allowed to say so today) under French and, to some degree, German influence, attained its greatest height since its classical age of Pushkin, Lermontov, and Gogol. Upon this the October Revolution made a violent impact, but it did not dam the swelling tide. Absorbed and inexhaustible preoccupation with social and moral questions is perhaps the most arresting single characteristic of Russian art and thought as a whole; and this largely shaped the great Revolution, and after its triumph led to a long, fierce battle between, on one side, those primarily artistic rebels who looked to the Revolution to realize their own most violent “anti-bourgeois” attitudes (and attitudinizing) and, on the other, those primarily political men of action who wished to bend all artistic and intellectual activity directly to the social and economic ends of the Revolution.

The rigid censorship which shut out all but carefully selected authors and ideas, and the prohibition or discouragement of many nonpolitical forms of art (particularly trivial genres such as popular love, mystery, and detective stories, as well as all varieties of novelettes and general trash), automatically focused the attention of the reading public on new and experimental work, filled, as often before in Russian literary history, with strongly felt and often quaint and fanciful social notions. Perhaps because conflicts in the more obviously dangerous waters of politics and economics might easily be thought too alarming, literary and artistic wars became (as they did in German countries a century earlier under Metternich’s police) the only genuine battlefield of ideas; even now the literary periodicals, tame as they necessarily are, for this very reason make livelier reading than the monotonously conformist daily, and purely political, press.

The main engagement of the early and middle 1920s was fought between the free and somewhat anarchist literary experimenters and the Bolshevik zealots, with unsuccessful attempts at a truce by such figures as Lunacharsky and Bubnov.4 This culminated, by 1927-1928, first in the victory, and then, when it seemed to the authorities too revolutionary and even Trotskyist, in the collapse and purge (during the 1930s), of the notorious RAPP (the Revolutionary Association of Proletarian Writers), led by the most uncompromising fanatic of a strictly collectivist proletarian culture, the critic Averbakh. There followed, during the period of “pacification” and stabilization organized by Stalin and his practical-minded collaborators, a new orthodoxy, directed principally against the emergence of any ideas likely to disturb and so divert attention from the economic tasks ahead. This led to a universal dead level, to which the only surviving classical author of the great days, Maxim Gorky, finally and, according to some of his friends, with reluctant despair, gave his blessing.

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Dmitri Shostakovich: Katerina Izmailova with Galina Vishnevskaya



Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) 
Katerina Izmailova (Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) 
A film by Mikhail Shapiro, 1966 English subtitles 
Screen play and libretto by Dimitri Shostakovich, after the novel "Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk," by Nikolai Leskov. 
Directed by Mikhail Shapiro. 
A Lenfilm Production.

Katerina . . . . . .Galina Vishnevskaya
Sergei . . . . . . . A. Inotemtsev (sung by V. Tretyak)
Zinovy . . . . . . . N. Boyarsky (sung by V. Radziyevsky)
Boris . . . .. . . . A. Sokolov (sung by A. Vedernikov)
The Imbecile . . . R. Tkachuk (sung by S. Strezhnev)
Sonetka . . . . . . T. Gavrilova (sung by V. Reka)

Chorus and Orchestra of the Shevchenko Opera and Ballet Theater, Kiev. Conducted by Konstantin Simeonov
.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Nikolai Leskov: The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk

If “The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” is the best known of Nikolai Leskov’s works outside Russia, that is owing mainly to the opera Dmitri Shostakovich made of it in 1934. Like Soviet critics of the time, Shostakovich saw the heroine as the embodiment of protest against a corrupt and stultifying bourgeois society and therefore justifiable in her actions, if not exactly innocent. To make that reading more persuasive, he eliminated the third and most terrible of her crimes. Andrzej Wajda did not go so far in his film version, A Siberian Lady Macbeth (1962), but he did make the third victim a selfish and manipulative little creature and therefore “deserving” of his fate. Leskov’s story allows for no such simplifying social explanations. It is a dramatic portrayal of the amoral, ambiguous, elemental force of sexual passion, as intense in its heat as in its coldness. In stylistic directness and narrative concentration, it is unique among his works. He wrote it while visiting relatives in Kiev, where he was given space in the university’s punishment room. He later described how his hair stood on end as he worked on it alone in that unlikely place and swore he would never describe such horrors again. The story, one of Leskov’s earliest, was first published in Dostoevsky’s magazine Epoch in 1865. Richard Pevear
The first song brings a blush to the cheek.
—a saying
Chapter One

In our parts such characters sometimes turn up that, however many years ago you met them, you can never recall them without an inner trembling. To the number of such characters belongs the merchant’s wife Katerina Lvovna Izmailova, who once played out a terrible drama, after which our gentlefolk, in someone’s lucky phrase, started calling her the Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.
Katerina Lvovna was not born a beauty, but she was a woman of very pleasing appearance. She was only twenty-three years old; not tall, but shapely, with a neck as if carved from marble, rounded shoulders, a firm bosom, a fine, straight little nose, lively black eyes, a high and white brow, and very black, almost blue-black hair. She was from Tuskar in Kursk province and was given in marriage to our merchant Izmailov, not out of love or any sort of attraction, but just so, because Izmailov sent a matchmaker to propose, and she was a poor girl and could not choose her suitors. The house of Izmailov was not the least in our town: they traded in white flour, kept a big rented mill in the district, had orchards outside town, and in town had a fine house. Generally, they were well-to-do merchants. Besides, the family was very small: the father-in-law, Boris Timofeich Izmailov, was already nearly eighty, a long-time widower; his son, Zinovy Borisych, Katerina Lvovna’s husband, was a little over fifty; then there was Katerina Lvovna, and that was all. In the five years of Katerina Lvovna’s marriage to Zinovy Borisych, she had had no children. Nor did Zinovy Borisych have children from his first wife, with whom he had lived for some twenty years before becoming a widower and marrying Katerina Lvovna. He thought and hoped that God might grant an heir to his merchant name and capital from his second marriage; but in that he was again unlucky with Katerina Lvovna.
This childlessness greatly distressed Zinovy Borisych, and not only Zinovy Borisych, but also old Boris Timofeich, and even Katerina Lvovna herself was much grieved by it. For one thing, exceeding boredom in the merchant’s locked-up tower, with its high walls and watchdogs running loose, had more than once filled the merchant’s young wife with pining, to the point of stupefaction, and she would have been glad, God knows how glad, to nurse a little child; and for another thing, she was also sick of reproaches: “Why marry, what’s the point of marrying; why bind a man’s fate, barren woman?”—as if she really had committed some crime against her husband, and against her father- in-law, and against their whole honorable merchant family.
For all its ease and plenty, Katerina Lvovna’s life in her father-in-law’s house was most boring. She went visiting very little, and if she did go with her husband to call on his merchant friends, that was also no joy. They were all strict people: they watched how she sat, and how she walked, and how she stood. But Katerina Lvovna had an ardent nature, and when she had lived in poverty as a young girl, she had been accustomed to simplicity and freedom, running to the river with buckets, swimming under the pier in nothing but a shift, or throwing sunflower husks over the garden gate at some young fellow passing by. Here it was all different. Her father-in-law and husband got up as early as could be, had their tea at six o’clock, and went about their business, while she dilly-dallied from room to room alone. It was clean everywhere, it was quiet and empty everywhere, icon lamps shone before the icons, and nowhere in the house was there a living sound, a human voice.
Katerina Lvovna would wander and wander about the empty rooms, start yawning with boredom, and climb the stairs to her marital bedroom in the small, high mezzanine. There, too, she sat, looked at how they hung up hemp or poured out flour by the storehouse—again she would start to yawn, and she was glad of it: she would doze off for an hour or two, then wake up—again the same Russian boredom, the boredom of a merchant’s house, from which they say you could even happily hang yourself. Katerina Lvovna was not a lover of reading, and besides there were no books in their house except for the lives of the Kievan saints.
Katerina Lvovna lived a boring life in the rich house of her father-in-law during the five years of her marriage to her unaffectionate husband; but, as often happens, no one paid the slightest attention to this boredom of hers.

Chapter Two

In the sixth spring of Katerina Lvovna’s marriage, the Izmailovs’ mill dam burst. At that time, as if on purpose, a lot of work had been brought to the mill, and the breach proved enormous: water went under the lower sill, and to stop it up slapdash was impossible. Zinovy Borisych drove people to the mill from all around and sat there constantly himself; the business in town was managed by the old man alone, and Katerina Lvovna languished at home for whole days as alone as could be. At first she was still more bored without her husband, but then it came to seem even better to her: she felt freer by herself. Her heart had never really gone out to him, and without him there was at least one less commander over her.
Once Katerina Lvovna was sitting at the window on her upper floor, yawning, yawning, thinking of nothing in particular, and she finally felt ashamed to be yawning. And the weather outside was so wonderful: warm, bright, cheerful, and through the green wooden lattice of the garden various birds could be seen flitting from branch to branch in the trees.
“What in fact am I yawning for?” thought Katerina Lvovna. “I might at least get up and go for a walk in the yard or a stroll in the garden.”
Katerina Lvovna threw on an old damask jacket and went out.
Outside it was so bright and the air was so invigorating, and in the gallery by the storehouses there was such merry laughter.
“What are you so glad about?” Katerina Lvovna asked her father-in-law’s clerks.
“You see, dearest Katerina Lvovna, we’ve been weighing a live sow,” an old clerk replied.
“What sow?”
“This sow Aksinya here, who gave birth to a son Vassily and didn’t invite us to the christening,” a fine fellow with a handsome, impudent face framed in jet-black curls and a barely sprouting beard told her boldly and merrily.
At that moment the fat mug of the ruddy cook Aksinya peeked out of a flour tub hung on a balance beam.
“Fiends, sleek-sided devils,” the cook swore, trying to catch hold of the iron beam and climb out of the swinging tub.
“Weighs two hundred and fifty pounds before dinner, and once she’s eaten a load of hay, there won’t be weights enough,” the handsome young fellow again explained, and, overturning the tub, he dumped the cook out onto the sacking piled in the corner.
The woman, cursing playfully, began putting herself to rights.
“Well, and how much might I weigh?” Katerina Lvovna joked, and, taking hold of the ropes, she stepped onto the plank.
“A hundred and fifteen pounds,” the same handsome young Sergei said, throwing weights onto the balance. “Amazing!”
“What’s amazing?”
“That you weigh over a hundred pounds, Katerina Lvovna. I reckoned a man could carry you around in his arms the whole day and not get tired out, but only feel the pleasure it gave him.”
“What, you mean I’m not a human being or something? You’d get tired for sure,” Katerina Lvovna replied, blushing slightly, not used to such talk and feeling a sudden surge of desire to loosen up and speak her fill of merry and playful words.
“God, no! I’d carry you all the way to happy Araby,” Sergei replied to her remark.
“Your reckoning’s off, young fellow,” said the little peasant doing the pouring. “What is it makes us heavy? Is it our body gives us weight? Our body, my dear man, means nothing in the scales: our strength, it’s our strength gives us weight—not the body!”

“In my girlhood I was awfully strong,” Katerina Lvovna said, again not restraining herself. “It wasn’t every man who could beat me.”
“Well, then, your hand please, ma’am, if that’s really true,” the handsome fellow asked.
Katerina Lvovna became embarrassed but held out her hand.
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Anna Akhmatova: Teacher – In Memory of Innokenty Annensky

And the one whom I think of as the teacher
Passed like a shade and left no shadow.
He drank all the torpor, all the poison,
And waited himself in vain for fame.
He who was the omen, and the portent,
Had compassion for all, breathed their torment,
He himself, endlessly suffocated…..